Review: Tomb Raider

I should say first and foremost, that Tomb Raider is a great game. Not a good game, perhaps not a perfect game, but great. Any faults I find in the single player portion of the game is very much me picking holes, but some factors do shine through those holes, but merely because the other remaining parts are so strong.

While on an expedition to find the lost Japanese city of Yamatai, the Endurance is sunk in a violent storm. Lara Croft and her motley crew of shipmates, friends and mentors must find a way of surviving after being shipwrecked and trapped on a mysterious island.

Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also Available On: PS3, PC
Release Date: Out Now

BRB-Score-5

You probably won’t be able to read a review of this reborn version of Tomb Raider anywhere on the planet that doesn’t mention the Uncharted series. This is undoubtedly a response to Nathan Drake muscling in on the sub-genre of mass-murdering action-adventuring archeologist, but the lessons learned from other popular modern games clearly were not confined to that being the only influence. Examining relics for extra clues reminded me of LA Noire and there were a number of factors that reminded me of Batman’s Arkham series. This is perhaps reinforced by the similarity in origin stories; a rich orphan who trains themselves to become something greater. A survivor. A hero. There are similar systems in many games, but somehow they feel distinctly reminiscent of Rocksteady’s Batman, most predominantly the way the levels are constructed, in particular the metroidvania-style backtracking that relies on you gaining new skills to access new areas and the amount of accumulative visible wear-and-tear on Lara’s character model.

And Lara does see more than her fair share of wear-and-tear! Throughout the story, she gets battered from pillar to crumbling post. Early scenes, one of which see her getting impaled, do help convey her fragility and make you take note of the fact that she is not (or at least not yet) super-human. However the amount of damage Lara takes when falling or leaping from excitingly exploding buildings, bridges and almost everything else she touches can feel a little over the top and the frequency of these events can seem at odds with Lara’s realistic chances of walking away without further harm. The developers also seem overly determined to show you the number of overly gruesome ways they have to bring about Lara’s early demise, with a number of the QTE’s being quite unforgiving on their timings, sometimes leading to the odd brutal strangling, and many of the action platform sections where you most often rapidly slide down a hill on your backside, featuring a number of spikes and other obstacles to get snagged up on resulting in a few metal poles being skewered through Lara’s face and skull.

TR-Campfire

This reboot very much gets back to showing you the origins of Lara. You see the journey she takes from young adventurer to stone cold killer archeologist. While I am being slightly flippant with terminology, it does highlight where the otherwise very high quality of story asks you to take a small leap of videogame logic for the benefit of gameplay. Lara exhibits an out pouring of emotion and level of remorse from the struggle that results in her shooting her first victim in the head, but there is a disconnect between the emotion conveyed in this scene and the complete lack of any signs of remorse for the hundreds of deaths that follow. All too easily Lara slips from adventurer , who we are told has haunted in the past, to the pretty bloody effective killing machine we all know today. There is also not enough of an explanation for why the amount of people are on this island. Yes, we are told that a number of planes and boats have crashed here over the years, but this isn’t enough of a reason to explain the vast number of people that Lara sets about reducing the population of. However, in the service of a fun videogame, these are factors I am happy to overlook and the combination of combat and platform or puzzle based exploration is well balanced throughout.

In combat, Lara, especially at first, feels fragile and this encourages you to stealthy sneak around stalking your prey, bow in hand – but if discovered, even the young Ms Croft does have the means to defend herself – often with the aid of taking cover, making use of the game’s automatic cover system that works surprisingly well. Approaching any low wall, or large enough object will see Lara automatically take cover, likewise there is now need to use a crouch button when entering an area with low head height. Both features felt like welcome additions that kept me in the moment of fighting enemies or exploring tombs rather than fighting controls or exploring for buttons. There were a few awkward animations when climbing, but overall Lara’s character model is animated superbly, with really nice extra attention to detail with realistic reactions and movements dependent on the surrounding geometry or current action. Lara’s stumbling when wounded early on in the game is a good example of where this is used to effectively back up the current main narrative.

TR-Cage-Puzzle

The only real weak point of the story is Mathias, the main antagonist, who is a bit of a two-dimensional psychopath, but his character is fleshed out a little in the collectable notes scattered over the island. These are on the whole worth collecting as they help add depth to the story of many of the island inhabitants; ancient/recent past and present. Lara thoughts are also conveyed via her audio journals that pop up when interacting with some of the campfire locations, which function as save and upgrade points. Further background to the crew of the Endurance is provided by Lara watching excerpts recorded on a video camera prior to the shipwreck, but it would have been nice to see these continue to feature a little longer than they did. Other collectables can be found throughout the island such as relics, but the most noteworthy points on the map (and the ones most worth returning for if missed before reaching the handily noted “point of no return”) are the secret tombs — although given that they are marked on the map, have white paint graffiti showing their path and have an audio clue when nearby, they are not THAT secret. These are usually small environmental puzzles that you have to discover the path to and through to find a treasure trove of salvage and the cheesy pay off of seeing the words “Tomb Raided” on screen. The tombs were enjoyable, but I would have preferred to either see a few more of them or have them be a greater size and perhaps with a bit more secrecy about their ‘secret’ locations.

Throughout your zip-lining, platform hopping travels through the islands shanty towns, ancient ruins and abandoned WWII bases, you quickly assemble your basic arsenal of four weapons; Pistol, Shotgun, Rifle and Bow – and these can be upgraded throughout the game. The upgrade system does help add a welcome tactical element, but at times feels a bit lightweight and sometimes so much so that it can feel like more of a hindrance to the action than an empowerment of the player. Finding three “parts” of any one weapon will make new upgrades available that can be unlocked in exchange for salvage recovered from crates or the bodies of slain foes and animals. Thankfully despite her rough treatment by the harsh environment and its demented inhabitants, Lara gets stronger and tougher throughout, even reaching the point of wielding a semi-homemade underslung grenade launching and taunting her would be attackers with cries of “I’m coming for you!” A survivor, yes, but also a mass-murdering action-adventuring archeologist is born.

TR-Sea-and-Sunshine

Multiplayer

The multiplayer is set in one of five arenas in free-for-all or split into two teams – pitting four Survivors against an opposing team of four Scavengers. The standard Deathmatch option is available and is generally preferable to the asymmetrical task based options, such as transporting medical supplies or sending radio signals, that see you alternate tasks between rounds. Even though more original in their design, I found them to be unfriendly to the uninitiated and ultimately uninteresting. Levels also come with map specific special features that can be set of to the advantage of you and your team, such as a sandstorm that blinds enemies or spike traps that can defend corridors. There are also various smaller traps, some of which feature in the single player game, such as the bear trap or the rope that hoists you upside down – in a similar manner to how it appears in single player, you can defend yourself with you pistol, but must free yourself by looking up and firing at the trap. There are some differences with the single player controls, with the reappearance of a crouch button and an absence of the auto-cover system. Better or alternate weapons, explosives and offensive and defensive perks are opened up as you rank up and do make a difference to the tactics you have at your disposal.

However, the main obstacle to this being fun, at least at first, is that the matching system, whether playing in Ranked or Casual match will regularly see all players thrown together regardless of level, seeing Level 1’s matched against teams containing the maximum Level 60 players and the team balancing does not seem to take account of levels when deciding who is playing on which team. As someone that is familiar with the levels is more likely to know the placement of the traps, special features and special weapons (a better bow and a minigun) having the added advantage of better basic weapons and upgrades as well, can make this feel unfairly weighted against all but those in for the the long haul. More fun to be had with a friendly team of people coordinating together, but you will still probably just want to stick to deathmatches and seeing who can rack up the most kills with the bow – which while excellent in the single player is perhaps even more fun in a competitive environment, but does leave to open to being fired upon by a dancing rifleman, jumping gun wielders or rolling shotgun owners. You look cooler using the bow though.

Strong, gripping (mostly) believable adventure story
Great cinematic presentation with a high level of polish
Enjoyable combat and exploration
Occasional (generally forgivable) flimsy plot hole
Multiplayer not on par with quality of single player

It is a shame there was not a new game+ option that opens upon completion, I was definitely ready for more. I am certainly keen to see the potential next game in the story and that is more than I have said of the Tomb Raider series in recent years. Given that this game was in many ways an answer and a statement to those that have ventured into Lara’s domain, I am happy to say to say that Ms Croft is back in Uncharted territory, perhaps not older and wiser, but young, hungry and looking better and more realistically proportioned than ever.

Review Raided.

Review copy provided by Square Enix
Official Game Site

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Comments

  1. Ok I’ll possibly have to definately give this game a go now!

  2. Ridcullys Hat

    Great! Now I really want this. I hope they fix the multiplayer as it sounds like it could be a really good addition

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